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Passengers of Polar Express train at NC Transportation Museum must show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or negative test results

Proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test are needed for all guests aged 12 and older. Masks are also required.

SPENCER, N.C. — The magic of the North Pole is coming back to the NC Transportation Museum in Spencer, North Carolina with the return of The Polar Express Train Ride.

Hundreds of families showed up to experience the train ride on opening day. 

One family traveled from Goldsboro, North Carolina -- about three hours from Spencer. They didn't mind the vaccine requirements. 

“I’m glad that they’re taking all the proper precautions," Nicole Shaffer, who came along with her husband and two kids, said. "However nothing would deter us from coming.”

Two different trains promise to bring the magic of the classic book by Chris Van Allsburg to life. Music from the movie adaptation is featured, and hot chocolate and cookies are served on board. The end of the train ride features Santa Claus himself at the North Pole, presenting the first gift of Christmas. And in true Polar Express fashion, passengers will get their own sleigh bell before leaving the train at Candy Cane Lane.

Marcus Neubacher, Director of Administration for the North Carolina Transportation Museum Foundation, said having the Polar Express back in town is crucial for the economy. 

“2020 was a very difficult year for us we were used to being event-driven we have over 150,000 people a year that come here normally in the course of a year," Neubacher said. "60-some thousand of that comes for the Polar Express." 

Tickets are on sale now, starting at $32 for the standard coach child seat and $38 for the standard coach adult seat. The top-dollar 1st-class six-top tables are all sold out, but the most exclusive tables on Train A -the Parlor Class four-top table- are still available for $325. 

Tickets can be bought online or via phone at 704-469-5231.

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The train rides happen on the following dates with times ranging from 4 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.:

  • November rides
    • Nov. 12-13
    • Nov. 19-21
    • Nov.26-28
  • December rides
    • Dec. 3-5
    • Dec. 9-12
    • Dec. 14-23

New for 2021, passengers age 12 or older will need to show either proof of COVID-19 vaccination or proof of a negative COVID-19 test result taken within 72 hours prior to the event, per a notice on the museum's website. Guests should present these documents with their tickets upon admission.

Additionally, passengers will need to wear masks at all times except while eating and drinking. 

The museum warns failing to do this could result in denial of boarding or being removed. 

"Guests who are unable to provide verification of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test may contact the N.C. Transportation Museum Foundation by email to discuss flexible options for their tickets," a spokesperson told WCNC Charlotte.

Children under age 2 and people who can't wear a face mask because of a disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act are exempt from this requirement.

The mask requirements and proof of either vaccination or negative test brought criticism online. On a Facebook event page as part of a casting call for the rides, some customers took to the comments to demand refunds.

"Ridiculous decision on their part," one commenter said. "I hope they have their worst year yet."

However, other parents welcomed the requirements and fired back at critics.

"If you don’t take your kids, that’s on you, not the museum," one person said. "Quit blaming them for you not wanting to wear a mask or get a negative test."

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The museum notes passengers who need ADA-compatible seating -- including wheelchair accessibility -- should review frequently asked questions before buying, to ensure needs are met. The standard "Jingle" car on Train A and the deluxe "Dasher" car on Train B have wheelchair lifts. However, First Class, Parlor Class, and all other standard and deluxe coach cars aren't wheelchair accessible because historic and antiquated rail passenger equipment is used, which are exempt from the ADA under U.S. law.

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